Tuesday, 30 October 2007

New Mike Skills online

Mike Skills 4 Christ (a.k.a. Michael Hojenski) has just added a couple of new tracks, 'Once I Was Blind' and 'Cosmetic Gs', to his Christian rap Myspace page. Go and have a listen.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The new eugenics

Babies aborted for minor disabilities

The article tells how increasing numbers of babies are being terminated, even after the current 24-week limit, for conditions such as club feet, cleft lip or palate and polydactyly. If you have any of these conditions, how does that make you feel? If you don't, how would it if you did?

UK abortion law, passed (legalised) in 1967 and amended in 1990, is currently under review. It seems the law will be relaxed further. I shudder at this because I think abortion is a horror. But the point is almost moot if the law as it stands doesn't even do what it's supposed to. Abortion is currently allowed after the 24-week limit in cases of "serious diability". If the kind of conditions listed here count as serious disabilities, serious enough to end human life, then perhaps the brave new world Alex Fear recently warned about isn't that far away. In fact, what do you know, Richard Dawkins wants eugenics back in consideration. That's the "moral Zeitgeist" for you, I suppose.

Update (29/10): In researching some of the reaction to James Watson's stupid comments of a couple of weeks ago, It turns out that eugenics has been a staple of "progressive" Darwinist thought since, well, Darwin himself. After him, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Marie Stopes, Virginia Woolf... Perhaps the most powerful voice standing up against this stellar lineup of prewar "freethinkers" was the Roman Catholic Christian writer and anti-Shaw G.K. Chesterton. We need another one of him now. HT: Bede.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Album review: In Rainbows by Radiohead

Radiohead, In Rainbows (W.A.S.T.E., 2007)

I have a friend, perhaps the biggest Radiohead fan I know, whose Facebook status straight after this was released said he was "amazed at Radiohead's ability to deflect attention away from the question of whether the album is even good". I will do my best to focus on that question rather than the method by which they're selling / giving away the album . Alex Fear reckons it's a good strategy on their part; I'm not sure.

The status update continued: "Thing is, it is". And I agree. This is a good album, better than nearly everything on the radio (I don't anticipate much radio play for it). But it's not a great album; it's not an amazing album, like we spoiled fans have come to expect. I guess why that should be can be seen from this thoroughly in-depth analysis of their releases:

Pablo Honey (Parlophone, 1993): Guitars. Quite good.
The Bends (1995): Guitars. Very good.
OK Computer (1997): Guitars, piano, some machines. Excellent.
Kid A (2000): Machines, some guitars. Good.
Amnesiac (2001): Machines, guitars, piano, some brass instruments. Good.
Hail To The Thief (2003): Guitars, machines, some piano. Excellent.
In Rainbows: Some guitars, some machines, some piano. Good.

You see, this band have been pushing the envelope for so long and so consistently now that they've become victims of their own genious. There are a couple of killer tracks on here, but overall, In Rainbows covers the same musical territory as their previous releases, particularly Hail To The Thief, only it doesn't do so as well. Given that this is now album number seven for them this is hardly surprising, but it's still disppointing.

Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the sheer frustration and hopelessness in the lyrics, shown for example in the following words:
I have no idea what I am talking about
I'm trapped in this body and can't get out
- 'Bodysnatchers'
What's the point of instruments?
Words are a sawn off shotgun
- 'Jigsaw Falling Into Place'
Neverthess, it's not as if they ever needed any encouragement towards angry hopelessness in their lyrics before - raging at the meaningless banality of modern life did the job. This time there is added to that a higher-than-normal dose of what I have to interpret as malice towards a certain woman or women; I'd say "lost love" but the better description might well be vengeful lust - for one example, the soothing riff of 'House of Cards' only accentuates the brutality involved in singing "I don't want to be your friend / I just want to be your lover".

And there's guilt. Two tracks ('Nude' and 'Faust ARP') talk about going to hell, and another ('Videotape', with which the album closes) about "Mephistopheles [...] reaching up to grab me". And, of course, the mention of both "Faust" and "Mephistopheles" on the same album is very deliberate, especially given some of the other lyrics on that final track which likewise make allusions to Goethe's play.

So what now for Radiohead? I'd like to say they discover the forgiving love of Christ which frees us from the reality of guilt. More immediately, though, my prediction is that there'll be another solo album each from Messrs Greenwood and Yorke, and then... Radiohead go full-on drum n' bass. You heard it here first.

Track list
  1. 15 Step
  2. Bodysnatchers
  3. Nude
  4. Weird Fishes / Arpeggi
  5. All I Need
  6. Faust ARP
  7. Reckoner
  8. House of Cards
  9. Jigsaw Falling Into Place
  10. Videotape

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Defining terms and tactics in the debate about origins

In a comment on my last post, Paul Wright writes:

Scott Adams also thinks that gravity is caused by the fact that everything is expanding, and that if you write down something you want to happen several times a day, it will come to pass. While this doesn't mean he's necessarily wrong about evolution, I think he's a contrarian who likes to throw out wild ideas about how the scientists are wrong. To deny evolution is on a par with the expansion=gravity idea: it's only Americans who think there is a controversy, because of the wedge strategy of the creationists (now known as intelligent design advocates).

I used the term "neo-Darwinism" advisedly. "Evolution" can be taken simply to mean descent by modification from a common ancestor. According to that definition, Michael Behe is an evolutionist (and so am I). It's the view that that modification can be accounted for by natural selection acting on random mutational variation that makes Darwinism. And that is controversial, even among those who, like David Stove (who was Australian), think that whatever is involved must be non-teleological, or, like David Berlinsnki (who lives and works in Paris), want to keep their options open. If I keep posting those links, maybe eventually someone will follow them.

For a very recent example of an atheist publicly doubting whether natural selection can do anything like everything that's been claimed on its behalf, check out this article by Jerry Fodor in the London Review of Books. FYI this article has been linked to by just about every ID-friendly blog on the planet. In an effort to maintain a distinction between friendliness and sympathy I had managed to hold out... until now! Peter S. Williams' response from an ID perspective is also worth reading. Of course, if Fodor turns out to be right about natural selection, ID theorists who've been making similar arguments for years won't expect to be congratulated along with him. And Daniel Dennett will have to find another hobby-horse to ride.

I'd say that over against the "wedge" strategy we have the "there's no controversy" strategy, wheeled out every time a controversy erupts. That, and the tendentious use of "creationist". I'm sorry, but if someone who thinks humans and chimps have a common ancestor can still be a "creationist", then I feel entitled to ask that all our definitions be on the table now. I won't allow those who argue on the basis of statistical studies of observed mutation rates (Behe) or their own published, peer-reviewed monographs on detecting design mathematically from patterns (Dembski) to be lumped in together with Creation Museum types in a sort of guilt-by-association on the sly.

I take your point about Scott Adams and his wacky ideas (like claiming free will is illusory... oh wait, that's a staple of naturalism). But then, for goodness sake, there are now eight posts on this blog labelled "creation/evolution", only one of which is also labelled "comedy"!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Dilbert and Dogbert discuss evolution

Scott Adams is another one* of those people who, while definitely not religious, nevertheless thinks neo-Darwinism is highly suspect. He has also gotten into the habit of calling P.Z. Myers an "ass-hat".

HT: Robert Crowther

* I'm thinking also of people like David Stove and David Berlinski

Friday, 12 October 2007

Al Gore wins Nobel Peace Prize

For making a film about global warming, which of course has absolutely everything to do with world peace. My favourite line:
The former US Vice-President has already taken over from Michael Moore as the most sanctimonious lardbutt Yank on the planet.
FWIW I don't deny that anthropogenic climate change is a serious and urgent problem for our planet. What I do deny is that Mr. Gore deserves this award. The judges appear, for some reason, to have been motivated to make some kind of political point beyond their remit.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Doug Powell presents the transcendental argument

Here, Doug Powell explains his previous response to the Blasphemy Challenge. I don't think I've heard the transcendental argument for the existence of God presented so clearly.
HT: Frank Walton

Friday, 5 October 2007

Argumentum ad hyperlink

Who hasn't seen this kind of debate online?

A: Look, everyone knows you're wrong.
B: Not everyone. You've forgotten Smith, Jones and Harris.
A: Those criticisms all hopelessly miss the point, as Miller points out.
B: Miller's response is just a load of rhetoric, and he doesn't address this argument or this one.
A: The first of those arguments commits several obvious fallacies; the second isn't even relevant.
B: Yes it is.
A: No it isn't.
This is a template instance of what I'd like to dub the ad hyperlink fallacy: that is, in debate, linking all over the net instead of making the arguments pertinent to the discussion yourself. It represents a tendency which is prevalent on every topic, which is why this post has so many labels.

Obviously, we can't always be spelling out all the arguments all the time. It very often is helpful to direct our readers to the people who've made the relevant points better than we could. And I'm well aware that I myself at times am just as gulity of this as anyone else - and indeed I will be whenever, in the future, I think I spot someone else doing this and point it out to them by linking to this post. D'oh!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Who says "to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant"?

John Henry Newman did. But was he right? I've been thinking about this a bit since this discussion with Paul Wright. I happened across this very helpful series of videos by Adrian Reynolds:
  1. The Early Church (30-312) one, two
  2. The Medieval Church (312-1500) one, two, three
  3. The Reformation Church (1500-1600) one, two, three
  4. The Enlightenment Church (1600-1800) one, two, three
  5. The Modern Church (1800-1945) one, two, three
  6. The Contemporary Church (1945-) one, two, three

Custard's postings on church history are worth a read, too.